There is no denying that 2020 has been a tough year for FFA members across the country. Everything from not being able to attend the 93rd National Convention & Expo in person to many chapters having to convert to learning online. However, one Missouri chapter is dealing with even more obstacles this year — the threat of losing their chapter as they know it.
The Warrenton FFA Chapter has a rich tradition of helping students since 1940. With a middle school and high school program, the chapter has been able to help students discover the importance of agriculture and vital life skills. However, the Warrenton FFA Chapter is under the microscope in their district.
The school district has to make budget cuts and every department is under consideration. However, not every department has students willing to start a campaign to fight for their right to learn and continue in its tradition. With 262 students across nine different agricultural education classes and two teachers, there is a lot to fight for here.
Mary Schleuter, a senior and third year officer for the Warrenton FFA Chapter, knew she had to do something, so she created a petition on Change.org to help spread awareness of what was going on in her community. The petition appeals to the school board members to reconsider the budget cuts for the ag department and FFA chapter.
“I decided to create the petition to bring awareness to the issue,” she said. “Not many people in the community were finding out about this, and that was a problem, considering we are an agriculture community. And it did exactly that. We received over 3,000 signatures within the first 24 hours.”
The petition, which at the time of this writing has nearly 8,000 signatures, has garnered local and national attention. Schleuter hopes that through the petition and awareness, she can help preserve the FFA organization that she loves so dearly.
“Not only do I want the students who will be entering into the Agriculture program to have the same experiences I did, but I also don’t want to see the possible economic and educational effects this may have on our county.” — Mary Schleuter, a senior and third year officer with Warrenton FFA
The proposed cuts will go into effect in the next school year (2021-22). They include a decrease from two agriculture educators to one and two FFA Advisors to one. To deal with a cut in teachers, courses to be eliminated include Ag Construction 1 and Ag Construction 2, Agricultural Business Leadership and Communication, & Exploring Agriculture at the middle school level. There is also a possibility that all or part of the current ag shop facilities would be taken away. Finally, the possible removal of the remaining agriculture teacher from the current ag facility into another high school building classroom.
Schleuter said, “Many people have asked me why I am putting my efforts into this, because it is not going to affect me, I’ll graduate before this goes into effect. It is because I realize how important the agriculture program is, especially in my community. Not only do I want the students who will be entering into the Agriculture program to have the same experiences I did, but I also don’t want to see the possible economic and educational effects this may have on our county.”
The cuts go deeper than just surface. Schleuter points out the importance of having an introduction to the agriculture and construction industry.
“Looking into the economy of Warren County our two most common jobs are manufacturing and construction, they also classify as our top two most specialized jobs,” she said. “The reductions in the ag program specifically are within the ag construction classes. By eliminating our ag construction classes, we no longer lay a foundation for the top two jobs within our county, but it also diminishes the chances for students to want to return to these jobs in our area after college and trade school. That will then directly impact the economy of Warren County by creating a shortage of jobs in our major job industries.”
In addition to the financial impact, there are also the important life skills that FFA teaches. Schleuter said, “There are many valuable skills that agriculture education also provides aside from just food and animal sciences. In our agriculture classes we learn to build resumes, public speaking, and to properly communicate and conduct ourselves in the real world. By making cuts in the agriculture education department, students will not learn skills that are vital to real life.”
You might be thinking, “How can I help?” You can help Mary and the Warrenton FFA Chapter by simply signing the petition online. Schleuter also ask that you share your favorite FFA memory and how agriculture education impacted your life with the hashtag #warrentonAGimpact. This will help everyone reflect on the amazing memories FFA has provided people, but also educate the Warren County Board of Education how important agriculture is to everyone. Lastly, community members can also help by emailing the Warren County R-3 School District Board of Education, with the impact and effects their decision could make.
“My biggest fear is that these cuts will have such a negative impact on the ag department and FFA chapter that it will only be a matter of time for enrollment to decrease enough and the entire agriculture program will be closed,” Schleuter said.